Triumph digs into deeply unsettled terrain, unearthing a story of suffering, survival, and a desperate longing to be heard

Image by Pier Carthew 

Located in the immediate wake of devastating human catastrophe, Louris van de Geer’s Triumph digs into deeply unsettled terrain, unearthing a story of suffering, survival, and a desperate longing to be heard above the chatter.

Directed by Mark Pritchard, this New Working Group production lays out a world in which the truth always exceeds the bounds of its imagining, generating a simmering climate of intense doubt, insecurity, and hysteria.

The play unfolds from an unassuming image: a man unstacks camo green chairs, which he assembles in a tight circle. Set on the edge of a heavy blue curtain that runs the immense wideness of the space, our focus is pulled all the more tightly on the fine details of the sparse decoration.

Taking full advantage of the capacious subterranean container at fortyfivedownstairs, Romanie Harper’s set design leaves an all but blank canvas against which the action is held under scrutiny.

A woman enters. The space remains silent, a nervous tension pervading.

She injures herself; she bleeds. The man turns, asking, “Can I help you?”

“Do you have something… to stop the bleeding?”

Taking a seat beside her at the top of the circle, he bandages her arm, gripping it to feel her pulse. He begins to count.

A cello sonata begins to play as the remaining cast drift one by one across the space, leaving bags beside empty chairs, collecting themselves at a no-frills tea and coffee station. Exposed brick and blacked out windows install us in the drab, familiar surrounds of as-seen-on-TV group therapy.

Drawing inspiration from ‘real stories of fake victims,’ the first act presents us with five survivors driven by a hunger for human connection.

Dissimulated by a script characterised by interruptions of syntax, and performances by a flatness of expression, with all interaction held at a distance, this driving force becomes a slow boiling pressure threatening to break the surface of the actors’ uncanny impersonations of politely reserved grieving.

When the group are finally clustered round centre stage, our eyes catching the translucent threads of steam that rise from their polystyrene cups, the man stops counting.

“Who has something to share?”

The fluoro lights flicker, falter; the woman takes the light shining inside the circle. Standing agape, she is motionless as twin TV monitors flash crumbling walls, tumbling rubble, rescue missions and dust storms, while the noise of a 24-hour news cycle fills the dark space left around her.

Her story told, the group applauds.

She is pulled aside, “your story was incredible.”

The chairs are stacked and the group disperses. A stage manager appears, “when it happened, I was buying a sandwich,” adding that it must have been such “a huge thing to be a part of.”

The scenes drift along an oneiric current, arranged and rearranged across an unsteadily hyperreal landscape: now she’s on TV, now she’s being interviewed, now she’s a spokesperson, now she’s an inspiration.

Though we never hear her story for ourselves, we are shown its effect on those around her. In a world that finds nourishment in mourning, where felt truths mean more than fact, and empathy can be traded for the spotlight, her story of overcoming is held up as a beacon of hope.

Until all of a sudden the truth comes out, the blue curtains open, and our grip on reality is shaken loose. By a huge temporal leap we are transported into the woman’s history, uncovering a psychology contorted by sickness and pain, and a compulsive need for empathy, and we are left to wonder if the facts might justify her fraud.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Written by Louris van de Geer
Directed by Mark Pritchard
Performed by Aljin Abella, Syd Brisbane, Anouk Gleeson-Mead, Emma Hall, and Leone White
Set & Costume Design by Romanie Harper
Lighting Design by Amelia Lever-Davidson
Sound Design by Chris Wenn

fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne
18-28 February 2016

Christopher Fieldus

Wednesday 24 February, 2016

About the author

Christopher Fieldus is a theatre critic and dramaturg